How does the County acquire land?

What are the types of Land Acquisitions?

Solicitation of Interest Process

Wake County's current method of acquiring land for open space is a reverse auction style process that we refer to as a Solicitation of Interest. The program is voluntary and is designed to inject competition into the process so that Wake County taxpayers get the best deal possible.

The process starts with a GIS-based model that County staff developed to identify high potential open space properties. The model starts with all 300,000+ parcels of land in Wake County and then filters out properties that are not suitable for open space. The tens of thousands of parcels that remain are then scored based on factors such as water quality benefits, connectivity, biodiversity, parcel size, etc. Staff reviews the top scoring parcels to validate the model results.

Next, staff sends a letter to owners of the top scoring parcels explaining the program and asking whether they would consider selling all or part of their property. All interested owners have to respond by the same deadline, and they all have to submit a price at which they would consider selling. This gives the County information about all of its potential options and how much each option would cost. Since the offers always add up to more than the County has funding to buy, competitive offers from landowners are critical.

A committee of County staff evaluates the offers and prepares a slate of recommended acquisitions. The staff recommendation is presented to the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee (OSAPAC) for input and then presented to the Board of Commissioners. With Board of Commissioner concurrence, County staff then enters final negotiations with each landowner. If the negotiation is successful, the Board of Commissioners gives final approval to the purchase, which triggers a series of legal and financial transactions that include signing a legal agreement and exchanging funds. After all necessary transactions are completed, the land acquisition is considered "closed," and the property officially becomes a part of the County's Open Space System.

The most recent Solicitation of Interest took place in May 2013, with the mailing of letters to 137 individuals representing 171 separate parcels (5,344 acres). From this solicitation, staff 37 replies from interested representing:

• 53 offers, some including multiple parcels;
• 2,227 acres, mostly in eastern Wake County;
• a tax value of ~$36 million
• 43 offers for fee simple purchase and 10 for easements or a combination;
• 7 watersheds – Little River (30.0%), Buffalo Creek (28.9%), Neuse River (26.5%), Marks Creek (8.5%), Middle Creek (4.1%), Swift Creek (1.9%), and Crabtree Creek (0.2%).

The 2013 Solicitation of Interest process is still underway, and there are no immediate plans to conduct another solicitation. By the time the 2013 Solicitation of Interest process concludes, most of the County's open space bond funds will be spent, and there may not be sufficient funding to do a 2014 solicitation.

Types of Acquisitions

In most cases individual landowners are the ones who respond to the Solicitation of Interest regarding their property; however, local NGOs, municipalities and state/federal agencies are eligible to participate in the Solicitation of Interest process if they can present partnership opportunities for open space properties that score highly in our evaluation process.

Owners may choose to offer property as a fee simple purchase or a conservation easement.

Fee Simple Purchases
For some landowners, selling the land outright makes the most sense. This is a fee simple purchase – the seller conveys all rights to the property and the buyer becomes the new owner.

Conservation Easements
The Open Space Program also works with landowners who are interested in placing an easement on their land, which transfers some property rights from the landowner to the entity holding the easement. Easement conditions are determined on a case-by-case basis, but typically will restrict land development, tree and vegetation removal, natural slope alteration, etc. The easement may also include provisions allowing the holder of the easement to build trails if public access is desired and agreed upon. Wake County's Open Space Program works with landowners to place two types of conservation easements on land: conservation greenway easements and agricultural conservation easements.

Agricultural conservation easements help offset the burden farmers face in a rapidly urbanizing county. To address the loss of working lands in the county, Wake County's Open Space Program partners with local agricultural organizations to help willing landowners place agricultural easements on valuable farmland. These easements are purchased with a combination of NRCS Farm and Ranchland Protection Program funds and the County's Open Space bond monies.
 
Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District conducts annual Keeping the Farm Workshops for farm operators and forest landowners interested in exploring options for keeping their farmland in the family.

Important things to remember about conservation easements:
  1. Easements are permanent. They cannot be abandoned or changed unless both parties agree. Easements carry with the land, which means if you sell the property or it falls into the hands of your heirs, the new owner(s) are also bound by the restrictions.

  2. You still own the land underneath the easement. You are just giving up the rights to do certain things with the land.

  3. There are significant tax advantages that accrue to you as the grantor of an easement. Any land under easement gets taxed at a reduced rate, which lowers your tax bill. But, to take advantage of these tax savings, you must grant the easement to a governmental agency or nonprofit land trust.

  4. Easements can either be donated to a grantee or sold. If you decide to sell an easement to a grantee, a licensed appraiser will calculate the value of the easement before negotiations commence.